Gillian Morbey, who founded and ran Sense Scotland for 25 years before moving to England and taking the helm at Sense and Sense International for a further eight years, has been awarded the Daniel Phelan Award for Outstanding Achievement at this year’s Charity Awards.
Morbey was presented with her prize at the online Charity Awards ceremony yesterday, which was broadcast live to an audience of several hundred people. The award was presented by Cathy Phelan-Watkins, director of Civil Society Media and wife of the late Daniel Phelan, who founded the Charity Awards.
Gillian was recognised for her immense impact in the disability field. Her ambition and determination has brought huge advances in the care and support provided to those with special communication and learning needs and transformed the lives of thousands of deafblind children and adults over the last four decades.
As the parent of a deafblind child in Scotland in the 1970s, Gillian started a support group for families which soon became Sense Scotland, the national deafblind and rubella association. Gillian’s dedication to the cause meant that she soon became its first paid employee – development officer – and as the organisation grew, its first chief executive.
She would lead the charity for 25 years, overseeing its growth from a kitchen-table project with zero funding to a £20m-turnover enterprise with £5m in reserves and local authority contracts across Scotland. During this time Sense Scotland played a key role in Holyrood’s drive to close long-stay institutions and resettle disabled people in the community.
In 2010 Gillian was asked to help out at Sense in England, and ended up running Sense and Sense International from Birmingham for eight years. During her tenure at the family of Sense charities, she led the development of TouchBase centres in Glasgow, Birmingham, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, providing community hubs and purpose-built spaces delivering a range of services and support for children with special communication as well as new revenue streams for the charities.
‘Unique blend of power and positivity’
Cathy Phelan-Watkins, owner and director of Civil Society Media which runs the Charity Awards, said: “I was lucky enough to have lunch with Gillian just before Covid entered our consciousness back in February 2020, and to experience her unique blend of power and positivity at first hand.
“Quite simply Gillian is one of those rare individuals who radiates compassion and a steely confidence in equal measure. A force for good who has moved mountains from a position of selfless commitment to improving the lives of disabled children and their families. There could be no better exemplar of our theme this year – to celebrate excellence through adversity – and to champion the transformational power of harnessing lived experience for the greater good.”
Gillian collected her award alongside ten category winners, three winners of the Rathbones Covid-19 Response Award, and the winner of the Overall Award for Excellence, SeeAbility, in the online ceremony yesterday hosted by writer, comedian and political commentator, Ayesha Hazarika.
Accepting the award, Morbey paid tribute to the wider voluntary sector’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and urged the government to address the crisis in social care and maintain support for disabled people.
“In the UK, civil society responded with courage and in so many ways,” she said. “The resilience of unpaid carers and families has been miraculous. We all heard about the challenges in home schooling, some of you will have experienced it, but looking after a disabled child or adult during lockdown is a whole other thing. The challenges families have endured has been staggering, we mustn’t ‘reward’ them by reducing their care packages when services resume.”
She said charities must continue to inform and influence public policy “not in a shrill way, but in a convincing and meaningful way – walking in the shoes of politicians to effect lasting change. We must remain the problem-solving innovators we are.”
The Daniel Phelan Award
The Daniel Phelan Award for Outstanding Achievement is the only individual award given out, and the recipient is selected by Civil Society Media and approved by the judging panel. Gillian Morbey joins an illustrious list of winners, including Sir Roger Singleton, Baroness Jill Pitkeathley, Dame Julia Unwin, Sir Nicholas Young, and Sir Harpal Kumar.
Daniel Phelan founded the Charity Awards in 2000. After he died in 2015, the organisers at Civil Society Media changed the name of the Outstanding Achievement Award to honour his memory.
Read Tania Mason’s profile of Gillian Morbey on the Charity Awards website.
Read more about the Charity Awards 2021 winners on the Charity Awards website.